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Honoring the brave: Police recognize citizens for heroic actions

Sylvia Ornelas was in her car on East Donna Drive near Peterson School on Feb. 13 when she saw something that wasn't right -- someone in a white van was attempting to lure a little boy inside. Ornelas positioned her car in front of the van, told the boy to run to school and not stop running until he got there.

Ornelas' actions on that February morning earned her a Citizens Award for Meritorious Service on Thursday night from the Merced Police Department. Ornelas was one of 14 Mercedians lauded by Police Chief Russ Thomas for getting involved when they saw crime happening and making a difference.

"It was a good experience coming here," Ornelas said. "I feared for his safety. I didn't get the license number; I was more worried about the kid." Ornelas came eye-to-eye with the van's female driver and noticed two people in the back of the van.

Ornelas is credited with thwarting a possible child kidnapping.

Ted Muratore works at the city's purchasing office in Applegate Park. He was honored Thursday for helping arrest four teenagers who were tagging city signs and buildings in separate incidents. Muratore's family, including his 82-year-old mother, attended the hour-long ceremonies in the Merced City Council chambers.

"She (mother) brought me up right and I'm glad she's still here to share this," an emotional Muratore said. "She raised her boy to still do good. I'm trying to keep my city clean."

It's a matter of having an open eye and being aware of your surroundings, he added.

The police department has 109 officers and 12 to 13 officers are working at one time to serve a town of 80,000 people. There's no way they can be everywhere and citizen involvement is wonderful, Thomas said.

Michael Kerr was on his way to lunch March 19 when he noticed a strong-armed robber trying to snatch a woman's purse in the 500 block of West Main Street. Kerr chased the robber for two to three blocks and was gaining on him when he threw the purse at him.

The 1 p.m. incident was almost surreal. Being honored is a "real good feeling," he said.

"I saw everything was wrong and did what I could," Kerr said. Without his involvement the suspect might not have been caught, Cmdr. Jeff Schindler said.

Dominic Rodriguez drew on his high school athleticism to chase down a purse-snatcher March 17 after he observed the robbery at 18th and Canal streets. He jumped from his vehicle, pursued the man along West 19th Street and saw him toss off his hat and jacket.

"That moment was pretty intense," Rodriguez said. "It's (recognition) a good feeling, a positive moment."

Headed home from work in his truck, Rodriguez said the robber wiggled away from him after making a couple of swings at him. He caught up with the man in an alley just as police surrounded him.

Shanitha Anderson-Scoggins and Angela Jackson, who have a downtown store, helped thwart a Canal Street purse-snatching March 19. She said the victim was "really stressed out" and they left clients in the store, chased the robber down an alley, lost sight of him briefly and then relocated him on Main Street where he was ultimately caught.

Scoggins said about 20 people ended up pursuing the purse-snatcher and it is a really good feeling helping out.

Travis Mask is a parts counterperson at Merced's Volkswagen-Kia dealership. She remembers a police officer asking her to identify the loose mirror and molding pieces from a Kia Optima after a hit-and-run accident. Weeks later a man ordered the same parts and Mask was able to supply police with a license number, leading to an arrest on hit-and-run charges from the earlier accident.

Mask said she is a detail person and it was just a matter of remembering.

"It felt good to catch the person," Mask said. "How can you not (get involved) when people ask for your help?"

Debra Aguilar noticed some suspicious people outside Postage Plus last Nov. 7 and wrote down the license number of their vehicle. This information helped in the arrest of two people in Sacramento on armed robbery charges.

Awards were presented by Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or